How Do We Really Define The War On Terror? Notes From A Generation At War

The Long March
Spc. Jessica Dzamba, a signal support systems specialist, assigned to the Company C, 103rd Brigade Engineer Battalio, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, takes some time to admire the desert night sky in front of her Stryker, "Tammy."
U.S. Army photo

How do we define the amorphous and endless War on Terror?


Do we measure the war by the money spent? Do we define it by the absence of a grand strategy and its political consequences? Or do we define the war at the individual level, by the generation tasked to fight it–by the grave markers in Section 60 in Arlington Cemetery? Or is the war more aptly defined by the chasm between those who fight and those who go about their lives seemingly oblivious to the cost and sacrifice of military families?

These were the questions “A Generation at War,” a discussion hosted in Washington in late September by the New York Times, attempted to answer. The panel comprised of C.J. Chivers, a New York Times journalist; Tammy Duckworth, a U.S. senator and a Purple Heart recipient; and Bonnie Carroll, retired Air Force Reserve officer. Moderated by Eric Schmitt, a Times correspondent, the discussion touched on the major themes of the perpetual War on Terror, ranging from the difficulty of the home front to the human cost of war, and how defining it defies any simple, easy narrative.  

Often the discussion meandered, the panelists struggling to piece together the experiences of a generation at war into digestible, sensible bits. Having covered the war from the perspective of the rank and file of the U.S. military, C.J. Chivers poignantly argued that although the American public largely respects the military, it remains detached from the sacrifices of service members and their families.  

Service members and their families “suffered in ways that were very common and palpable, but very private,” Chivers said. “People come home now, and I think they are widely respected and generally ignored, and so they come home to a lot of gestures that feel hollow. The yellow ribbons, the free tickets to Fenway, sort of a ritualized worship that doesn't amount to much practically. And those who are struggling often struggle alone.”

Speaking to the political aspect of the war, Senator Duckworth stated, “You have a disconnect between those who are sitting in the halls of power and the people we send off to war.” She emphasized that this disconnect enabled those in Congress to be complicit in perpetuating the war without tangible objectives while avoiding tough decisions such as the re-authorization for use of military force (AUMF). Due to the absence of political consequences, Senator Duckworth commented, “We can hide from this and avoid having these votes and just have this endless war that just keeps on going and going.”

People come home now, and I think they are widely respected and generally ignored, and so they come home to a lot of gestures that feel hollow. The yellow ribbons, the free tickets to Fenway, sort of a ritualized worship that doesn't amount to much practically. And those who are struggling often struggle alone

When asked about the civil-military gap, David Anderson, a Marine Corps veteran, said, “I think it’s a misperception...if your perception is driven by movies or television, if your understanding of veterans comes from watching SEAL Team 6 television shows or NCIS, then you’re not getting the full picture, veterans become characters in a movie not actual people, to a certain extent.”

Lindsey Ricchi, a law student at George Washington University, stressed her own struggle to understand the difficulties service members go through: “We [civilians] don’t understand, and barring myself going into that kind of situation I don’t know how I could understand other than talking to people. I get a sense of empathy but also of frustration because I don’t know what I could do to help bridge that divide.” However, after listening to the panel, she said that “sharing stories is a really big part of it.”

In the end, the answer may not lie in grand panels dissecting the war, but in the simple human act of connecting with one another – having the difficult conversations, we as a society have been avoiding for too long.

Sebastian J. Bae served six years in the Marine Corps infantry, leaving as a Sergeant. He deployed to Iraq in 2009. He has published in Foreign Policy, War on the Rocks, Strategy Bridge, Task & Purpose, the Diplomat, and Georgetown Security Studies Review.

Antonieta Rico is a U.S. Army veteran. She worked in public affairs and has embedded with infantry units during combat operations in Iraq. She is currently a Fellow at Women In International Security and most recently worked as the Director of Communications and Policy at the Service Women’s Action Network, a national advocacy organization for military women and women veterans.

It didn't take long for a central theme to emerge at the funeral of U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Livermore, an event attended by hundreds of area residents Friday at Union Cemetery in Bakersfield.

It's a theme that stems from a widespread local belief that the men and women who have served in the nation's armed forces are held in particularly high esteem here in the southern valley.

"In Bakersfield and Kern County, we celebrate our veterans like no place else on Earth," Bakersfield Chief of Police Lyle Martin told the gathering of mourners.

Read More Show Less

An Air Force Special Tactics combat controller that "delivered thousands of pounds of munition" during a close-range 2007 firefight in Afghanistan was awarded the Silver Star on Friday.

Read More Show Less

ROCKFORD — Delta Force sniper Sgt. First Class James P. McMahon's face was so badly battered and cut, "he looked like he was wearing a fright mask" as he stood atop a downed Black Hawk helicopter and pulled free the body of a fellow soldier from the wreckage.

That's the first description of McMahon in the book by journalist Mark Bowden called "Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War." It is a detailed account of the horrific Battle of the Black Sea fought in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, in October 1993. It claimed the lives of 18 elite American soldiers.

Read More Show Less

The July arrests of 16 Camp Pendleton Marines in front of their 800-person battalion was unlawful and a violation of their rights, a Marine Corps judge ruled Friday.

Read More Show Less

Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher will retire as a chief petty officer now that President Donald Trump has restored his rank.

"Before the prosecution of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher, he had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, awarded a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor," a White House statement said.

"Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome. Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified."

The announcement that Gallagher is once again an E-7 effectively nullifies the Navy's entire effort to prosecute Gallagher for allegedly committing war crimes. It is also the culmination of Trump's support for the SEAL throughout the legal process.

On July 2, military jurors found Gallagher not guilty of premeditated murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter to death and opening fire at an old man and a young girl on separate occasions during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.

Read More Show Less